Director Anne Kauffman’s philosophical, paradoxical, eccentric, and vehemently captivating production of Smokefall centers on a normal, yet dysfunctional family from Grand Rapids, Michigan, comprising a mother named Violet (Katherine Keberlein)with twins on the way, her formidable but hilarious father seen as the absentminded Colonel (Mike Nussbaum), mute daughter, Beauty (Catherine Combs) whose meals consist of household items and earth, and husband Daniel (Eric Slater) who’s busy with work and disconnected from the rest of them.
In Smokefall, we see Daniel and Violet are stuck in a fruitless marriage and we observe the monotonous routine the family lives through day after day. This routine drives Daniel to leave the home as he can’t endure the decisions he made that resulted in such a boring lifestyle. And, as for the Colonel, we can’t help but pity him because of his dementia. Mike Nussbaum, who portrays the Colonel (and later Johnny), is 89 years old and he stuns the audience with such a remarkable performance that is not only uproariously funny but also very sentimental.
Before the play even begins though, we are drawn to Kevin Depinet’s set design of a 1960s home with a lopsided stage, creating a fascinating visual style. In the first act, we watch the family in the midst of their breakfast. While everyone is busy attending to their daily activities, the omniscient narrator, Footnote (Guy Massey) adds over twenty footnotes that accurately, and humorously, provide background information in between dialogue.
Inside Violet’s womb, we are taken into a dark realm where the twins Johnny (Eric Slater) and Samuel (Guy Massey) sit and await their entrance to the outside world. This scene gives audience hysterical and intriguing insight on the unborn twins’ thoughts in their mother’s womb, where they discuss the consequences of being born into the family they have heard about. While this scene was indeed amusing, the conversation seemed to be a bit prolonged and the swearing was hackneyed and overdone. Nevertheless, the energy of this scene is heightened by the flickering of lights and intense shaking with the help of Lindsay Jones’s sound design and David Weiner’s lighting design.
Smokefall is a play teeming with metaphors such as the unbroken piñata, the apple tree that symbolizes personal heritage, Colonel’s military walk, the everlasting romantic moment, and the beauty that does not speak. In the second act, Haidle takes the audience on a journey through time using the techniques of flash-back and flash-forward. We are shown the family’s next generation that lives in the same home at the beginning (except with the addition of an apple tree). Still, the theme of love and peace is strong despite the play’s many symbols.
Smokefall is a drama that probes the nature of love and home, yet under the hand of Kauffman it still has a strong sense of humor. And, the play had some very poignant moments that resonated with the audience. At this performance, the crowd gave the show a standing ovation for the actors and some even had to wipe away a few tears while clapping.